The Cowboy

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Chapter 7

I picked out one of the only semi-nice dresses I'd brought with me on the trip for the dance that evening. It was a yellow and white strapless sundress with a flowered sash that tied around the back. Spending more time than I usually did getting ready, I finally got my hair to curl just right, and let it fall down my shoulders. I decided I looked pretty good as I spun around a couple times in front of the mirror, looking at my reflection.

The way the Lodge was set up surprised me. The main lighting was turned down a bit, and instead of the paper lanterns that usually hung, white icicle lights had been strung up along the walls and from the ceiling. The tables to the sides of the large dance floor had tablecloths on them now, and little candles sat in the middle, lit up, giving the place a more formal glow. A lot of the more traditional wall decorations had been taken down too, although the place still had a very distinctive western feel. Most of the men were dressed in boots and cowboy hats as usual, although now they wore them with suits. It was odd though seeing so many women in dresses, as most everyone usually wore jeans, even at night. I thought it was a nice change from the usual atmosphere.

June Waterman came over to greet us as we walked in. She was wearing a dark blue dress that reached the floor, a flower pinned to one of the straps. "Well don't you all look magnificent!" she glowed as she looked over each of us. "We've got an open bar tonight so help yourselves." I saw Luke's eyes perk up with that bit of information before he floated off. My eyes followed him to the bar where people were sitting and drinking, with elbows resting on the mahogany surface. I choked back a groan as I remembered how a couple nights ago, I had sat naked on that surface with Tripp's head buried between my legs.

After we had both recuperated from our lovemaking, we made sure to thoroughly scrub down the bar and the stool we had sat upon, twice for good measure. Laughing, Tripp talked about being disowned if the Waterman's found out about what we had done. "If only the Health Department knew..." he had said jokingly. "We'd probably lose our license." Now, as I looked at the bar, all I could think about was him.

My parents and Mrs. Waterman exchanged pleasantries while I scanned the room for any sign of Tripp. I could tell everyone was enjoying themselves, and many were out twirling around the dance floor to the music that was being played by the country band set up on a small stage in the corner. I didn't see Tripp anywhere, and I turned back toward Mrs. Waterman. I could tell why Tripp had had a good life after the death of his parents. June Waterman was a kind woman. As if she read my mind, she looked over at me and smiled.

"Don't worry, Kira, that boy of mine is around here somewhere," she laughed lightly.

It was strange to hear Tripp referred to as a boy. To me, he was about as manly as a man could get. I smiled at Mrs. Waterman and nodded. Just the thought of Tripp had my heart beating faster than usual. It was strange, being with him every night for just over a week, and still feeling the same way I felt when I first saw him atop that crazy black stallion. I wondered if it would ever stop -- my craving for him.

The Marshalls came up to us then to join in the conversation, or at least Mr. and Mrs. Marshall did. I didn't see Willy anywhere as I scanned the room once more.

"Kira, you look lovely this evening," Mrs. Marshall said as she approached us. I smiled and muttered a 'thank you', wondering if Willy had said anything to his grandparents about our outing yesterday. I decided he hadn't since nothing seemed amiss as the Marshalls lightly chattered with June and my parents.

Lucy tugged at the hem of my dress. I turned to her, asking her with my eyes what she wanted. She pulled me a few feet away from the adults who were talking.

"You never told me how your ride with Willy went," she asked curiously. I rolled my eyes and tried to explain.

"Let's just say I made it clear by the end of it that I really didn't want anything to do with him. He's an asshole, just as we suspected." I smiled and tried to be light about it.

"Oh...did you make him mad? He's staring at you...no don't look!" My head had instinctively shot around at that, looking for the man she was talking about. I quickly readjusted myself back toward Lucy.

"Where is he?" I whispered.

"He's over in the other corner, I noticed him when we first came in. He just looks kind of pissed off, and you know, he hasn't been at breakfast..."

"Don't worry, he's just mad that I rejected him."

"You mean he actually hit on you?"

"He tried to kiss me...don't act so surprised! You all should have known that would happen if I went out with him alone! He hasn't been subtle about his feelings towards me, I mean with him sitting next to me every day during breakfast and practically slobbering on me."

"Oh Kira, I should have stood up for you the other day, I'm sorry..." my sister seemed genuinely apologetic.

"Hey, it's not your fault, don't worry," I said gently. "And besides, I took care of myself. Nothing happened, it was just annoying. It was actually good that I went since now I won't have to deal with him for the rest of our time here."

We conversed for a couple more minutes, but then Lucy made me nervous when she stopped in midsentence as she spoke. Her eyes got slightly bigger, and I noticed she was looking over my shoulder. I gave her a questioning look before turning around to see a large frame standing over me. Slowly, I took a step back toward my sister and smiled as my eyes met with Tripp's.

I looked over him shamelessly. He was magnificent. Of course I would always prefer him without any clothes on, but this was a close second. He wore a fine black Stetson, boots, slacks and a cream-colored dress shirt that brought out his dark features perfectly. A small, round, silver buckle glistened on his leather belt. My breath caught in my throat as I looked up into his eyes again. He seemed just as taken with me, though I had no idea why. I paled in comparison. The entire room paled in comparison.

"I don't think I've had a chance to meet your sister yet, California," Tripp said as he looked at Lucy with one of those smiles that could make any girl's thighs quiver. He extended his hand and I watched as she took it, her wide eyes never leaving his.

"Lucy, this is Tripp Carson. Tripp, Lucy." I introduced them, amused with Lucy's reaction. I sympathized with her, completely understanding how she felt.

"Pleased to meet you, Lucy," Tripp's polite southern drawl was mesmerizing, and all Lucy could do was nod.

"Tripp!" Mrs. Waterman had turned to us once seeing who was there. "Isn't he as handsome as the devil?" she joked as she went over to pat Tripp on his arm. He smiled and wrapped the arm around her. "Kira has been waiting for you all night," she jokingly scolded. "You ought to be ashamed of yourself for making her have to wait!"

I groaned inwardly at her teasing, quickly butting in to rectify it. "I've only been here for fifteen minutes..."

Tripp played along though. "My god, what an ass I've been." A shocked look crossed his face. "Miss, you'll have to allow me to make it up to you." I could tell by the look in his eyes that he had plenty of ideas on how he could make it up to me.

"Well...perhaps I was a little put out..." I said, my eyes dancing with laughter and desire. He smiled and took my hand.

"Wanna get some fresh air for a little bit?" he asked, motioning his head toward the door.

I laughed and nodded, following him onto the porch that wrapped around the Lodge. The night air was cool and felt refreshing. We walked over to the railing on the right side of the building, where there was a little bit more privacy. I glanced at Tripp as he came up behind me and put a hand down on either side of me, effectively trapping me against the ledge of the porch. Sighing, I leaned back into him as the arms now reached to wrap around me from behind.

He rested his chin on top of my head as we looked out onto the darkened ranch. "You look beautiful, Kira," he said softly.

My heart soared when he said things like that, although I tried not to show it. Instead I gave a small giggle and whispered, "I suppose you don't look too bad yourself, Cowboy...hey!" His arms had unwrapped themselves and I felt him pinch my backside before his hands came to rest on my bare shoulders, lightly brushing my skin. "What would you like me to say?" I asked before lowering my voice to a whisper. "...That you make me weak with desire and I feel empty without you inside of me?"

"Yes." He said tightly before he spun me around and ruthlessly captured my mouth. I moaned softly as his tongue slipped between my lips. It was indecent, the way he kissed me there on the porch. I knew the few people who were in sight would have been staring if they had seen, and a couple probably were. I didn't care though. Every care in the world seemed to fly out of me when he put his mouth on me.

Eventually he stopped, and turned me back around to face the ranch, allowing us to revert to our old positions. I was breathing harder though and it took a moment for the dizziness to pass.

"I think your sister likes me," Tripp said. I could tell he was smiling.

"She thinks you're one of the most handsome men she's ever seen," I said laughing.

He gave a satisfied sigh as he continued to tease. "I knew I would like that girl."

"Well I can't say I disagree with her taste." He gave me a small squeeze after I said it. "The rest of my family disapproves though," I grew more serious. It was getting harder to ignore the fact that I would be leaving in two days. I hadn't wanted to talk to him about it, afraid of his answer, afraid of the pain that would come with addressing it. At the same time though, I desperately wanted to know how he felt about me...about us.

"No doubt they think I'm too old for you," his voice was still light as he held me between his arms.

"Perhaps..." I said quietly. I found myself trying to hold it in, but I couldn't anymore. This wasn't something we could continue to ignore. "I think it's more than that though. I think they're more hesitant about our locations rather than our ages..." the way I said it, it was clear that this concern was very much my own.

"Kira..." his voice was stern, warning me not to continue. I was barely listening to him though.

"This reminds me of the night I first saw you," I said gently as I gazed out to the dark corral in the distance. "You were there," I pointed out, "and it was one of the most fascinating things I'd ever seen, the way you rode that horse," my words were soft and reflective. "I remember thinking, as I snuck over to the barn and watched you, that I would have given anything for you to touch me with those hands, for you to put your arms around me. And now..." my voice cracked. "I'm not sure that I wouldn't go back and change it if I had the chance." I was surprised by my revelation. The thought of losing him was so painful that if it came to pass, I knew I would forever be tortured with memories.

He spun me around and grabbed my face, his eyes bearing into mine, which were starting to tear up. "Don't say that," he commanded harshly.

"What are we going to do?" I asked, my whisper filled with despair.

His mouth came down on mine with a desperate need, as if willing me to forget everything.

I used all my strength to break from him. "No...no you can't just kiss me and make it better."

"Yes I can," he said breathlessly.

"No..." I tried one more time before his mouth was there again. Alright, perhaps he could, I thought, as his lips moved upon mine once more.

I tried to fight it, but soon my intense sadness turned into a raging desire while his hands grasped me and held my body to him. I was joyous and angry at the same time. How was it that he had this power over me?

"Tripp, I need you," I whispered against his mouth. He groaned and nodded, unwrapping his arms and steadying me as I wobbled on my feet.

"The barn..." he whispered , his voice desperate.

"Let's go..." I wanted answers, but at this moment I wanted him more. Perhaps I could have both if we went somewhere more private.

"Tripp!" both of our heads shot around to look and see who had called to him. It was Jack Waterman, who was walking toward us, embarrassment plastered across his face due to the intimate situation he had interrupted. "Erm...sorry, but uh, we need you inside for just a moment."

Tripp rolled his eyes and looked back to me. "All right, I'll be there in just a minute," he said curtly. As Mr. Waterman walked away, Tripp apologized with his expression. "Go to the barn, it'll be empty, everyone is here at the dance tonight. I'll meet you there in a couple of minutes. This shouldn't take too long."

I nodded, trying to smile. "Hurry up," I whispered to him, trying to convey my need. He kissed me one last time before taking off into the Lodge.

This was ridiculous, I thought to myself as I headed for the stables. All he had to do was touch me, kiss me, and I completely lost my mind. I really did want to try and make an effort tonight to mingle with people and maybe even dance with the ridiculously amazing, wonderful, perfect man who I had become obsessed with, but all that had gone out the window when I saw him. I wondered when it would ever dwindle - my need for him.

Never. The answer kept reverberating in my head. Never would this need dissipate. In fact, it seemed as more time went on, the greater it grew. The concept scared me. Would I be able to go on if he decided to end it when I left?

My thoughts tortured me as I opened the door to the barn and stepped inside the darkness, quickly finding the switch that turned on a dim, overhead light. It wasn't much, but at least I could see some. The hay scattered on the ground crunched underneath my short heels. I realized that my more formal outfit was completely out of place in this setting, though I figured it didn't matter much. I had a feeling I wasn't going to be wearing it for much longer. It was funny how when Tripp and I were alone, our clothes seemed to function only as a starting formality that lasted but minutes before they were shed.

I walked down the barn and into one of the empty stalls, leaning over the swinging door from the inside and allowing myself to rock lightly on it as I used my feet to guide it back and forth. I allowed myself to think of all the things that Tripp was going to do to me, and began to grow wet. Perhaps I should undress now, I thought, before deciding that Tripp may want to do that part. I wouldn't have had time anyway, I heard the door to the barn open, and my excitement grew.

"Well that didn't take very long," I said in a seductive tone as I opened up the gate to step out and greet Tripp. What I saw caught me by surprise though, and I stopped in my tracks and gave a curious look to the man who was walking up to where I stood. "Willy, what are you doing here?"

A mean smile was plastered on his pale face as he approached me. "Were you expecting someone else?" The way he said it, it wasn't a question. "I saw you come in here and thought I'd see how you were doing on this fine night. You look ravishing..." he met me and his hand came up to brush my cheek. I quickly slapped it away. His breath reeked of alcohol, and he no longer had a fake countenance, but instead his face showed his true colors, and they weren't pretty.

"Well you can turn around and leave, I'm not interested in your company," I said in a hard voice, trying not to show the small amount of alarm that now crept through me. The audacity of the man to follow me in here! Especially after what I had said to him yesterday by the cabin! One would think he might have gotten the idea that I wasn't interested. Perhaps I should write a strongly worded letter to Harvard about their admittance of someone who obviously was dumber than the horse in the stall next to me.

"C'mon, Kira. I'm not used to women telling me 'no', especially when I've made myself clear about how attractive I find you..." his hand reached for my cheek again.

"Willy, you're drunk," I pushed him away and began to walk toward the door, trying to create distance between myself and the man since he clearly wasn't going to.

His arm caught me around the waist and panic spread through me. "Well that shouldn't matter too much to you, Kira. You're giving it to that ranch hand." He grabbed my wrist as I wiggled out of his grasp. "Saw you two out on the porch. Whether I'm drunk or not, I'd think you would welcome the improvement," his tone was sickeningly sweet with a cruel edge to it.

"Let me go, Willy!" My hand whirled around and I struck him across the face. That only seemed to anger him. He still held onto my wrist and he reached for my other arm. I hadn't realized how strong he was. If only I could get out of his grip, I could make a run for the door. He was intoxicated to the point where he'd probably have trouble keeping up with me. I could at least make it outside and scream.

"You little bitch," he said viciously in reaction to my slap before forcing me against the wall of one of the stalls, pinning my arms against it. His body pressed against me so I couldn't move, his closeness prevented it. "If I had known you were a slut, I wouldn't have bothered with all that polite, gentlemanly crap. You like it rough don't you? That's why you're spreading yourself for that cowhand. Tell me, how does he give it to you?" I opened my mouth to scream, but Willy brutally covered it with his, forcing his disgusting tongue in. He tasted like whiskey, and I felt myself gag.

I bit down on his tongue with all the force I could muster, and he howled in pain, jumping back a step before quickly backhanding me with such force that I was thrown to the ground, dazed. I couldn't believe what was happening, and I got out one good scream as I felt Willy's hand moving up my leg, under my dress. His other hand quickly covered my mouth. I had never felt such fear before as I struggled to somehow throw him off of me.

But then the front door to the barn burst open, and a wave of relief flooded over me. I couldn't see as I lay there, facing away from the door, but Willy, who had been hovering over me, stood up with a look of fear in his eyes. I knew what was going to happen, there was no doubt in my mind. My eyes closed for a couple of seconds as I heard an angry roar heading toward us. I winced and tried to collect myself when I heard a fist connecting with a jaw, and subsequently, a body being slammed into one of the stalls.

As I sat up and looked behind me to see Tripp holding onto a bloody, battered, and quite unconscious Willy, fear entered me again. I didn't want Tripp to get in trouble for this, and that was what was going to happen if he kept going.

"Tripp, no!" I scrambled to get up and raced over to him, grasping his arm and wincing at the sight of what his fists had done. "Don't kill him, you'll go to jail! I'm okay, he didn't do anything! Please!" He had already stopped, and then he let go of the man and let him fall to the floor. He didn't look away from him though. I had never seen Tripp look that way before, blinding hatred pouring from his eyes. I could tell he wanted to do more.

It was the sound of me breaking that brought Tripp out of his unsighted rage. I choked back a sob and immediately, Tripp's arms were around me, cradling my face to his chest. "Shhh..." he whispered as he stroked my hair. Then, as if in sudden realization, he pulled my head back gently and looked down at my face and then over my body, trying to see if I was hurt.

"Are you all right?" he asked seriously, his voice laced with worry. I blinked and nodded my head, trying to calm myself down. In truth, I really was fine. My cheek stung and my legs were a little skinned, but Willy hadn't had the chance to do anything that bad except give me the fright of my life, which was why I was crying. "God damnit," Tripp whispered as he gently tilted my head up and saw my swelling cheek. For a second he turned back toward Willy with a murderous gaze, but as my hand tightened on his arm, he once again faced me, and hugged my body to him before lifting me up in his arms and carrying me out of the barn.

He didn't walk far before we reached a small wooden building. As we went in, I realized it was some type of storage pantry, with goods stacked up along the walls. Tripp sat me down in a chair and went to one of the drawers to grab what looked like a cloth napkin. Then he walked through a door into the adjoining room and I heard him fumbling around with something else. When he came back, he knelt in front of me and held the napkin, which was now filled with ice, up to my cheek where Willy had struck me, a mixed look of concern and anger in his eyes. I didn't move for a moment, and simply let him hold the ice to the hurt side of my face, while he stroked the other side gently with the back of his hand.

"Hold this here, I have to go for a few minutes, but I'll be right back," he said softly. I knew he had to go take care of Willy, so I took the ice and nodded to him. What was going to happen? Would the police be involved? This was the last thing that I wanted right now, I was in no mood to deal with people, and I knew my parents especially were going to have a fit. Although I had been scared out of my mind while it was happening, I felt a more pressing urge to resolve a different problem - different than what had just happened with Willy. But for that, I needed to be alone with Tripp, something I knew wasn't going to happen for awhile yet.

It was actually nice to be alone with my thoughts for a moment before all hell broke loose. The door swung open minutes later and my mother and father rushed over to me, immediately bombarding me. I sighed as I answered the "what happened?" and "are you okay?" questions. I felt bad because they were clearly worried, and I tried to convey that I was all right, that nothing had happened. It had simply been a close call.

"This is all our fault," my mother cried. "We never should have pressured you to go riding with him. There clearly was a reason why you didn't want to. We just thought..."

"Mom, it's not your fault. There was no way you could have known, and it was my choice too. Really, I'm okay." I was slightly annoyed though. Here I was, the one who had gone through the traumatic experience, and I was the one doing the consoling. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

Tripp came back as I spoke to my mom and dad. He told us that Willy would have to go to the hospital before he could be taken into custody because of the broken nose and various other injuries that Tripp had dealt him. The police were on their way at that moment, and would need to talk to me that night to make a report. I looked at Tripp with a pleading in my eyes, and he apologized with his expression, knowing that all I wanted at that moment was to go somewhere away from the commotion. He looked like he wanted to rush over and hold me, but knew better than to do that with my parents there.

"I never would have thought that Willy would do such a thing..." my mother was still upset. "We sat at him with breakfast every day! His grandparents are our friends!"

I swear my parents were getting more worked up than I was. Why wasn't I more distraught? I realized it was because I would soon have to face another more terrifying dilemma, one that had been plaguing me for over a week.

I tried to tell my parents that I was fine and that I didn't want to talk to the police, or anyone for that matter. Tripp took my hand and told me that once we both gave our stories to the cops, then we wouldn't have to worry about it for the rest of the night.

And so, a half hour later, both of us stood outside next to two squad cars and talked to some officers who were taking notes, while the rest of the ranch gathered outside of the Lodge, buzzing excitedly and trying to see what was happening. It wasn't often that the Waterman Ranch was visited by an ambulance and a couple of cop cars. I might have laughed if the situation hadn't been so serious. The crime scenes that I'd seen in L.A. would put this one to shame.

I went through my part of the story, having to admit why I was waiting in the barn by myself. The officers didn't say much except the occasional, "and then?" I found it harder to talk when I got to the part about how Willy had grabbed me and began talking to me in his drunken fit.

"Just tell us exactly what he said, as much as you can recall. His words can make all the difference for an attempted rape charge," one of the officers told me.

Rape. The word reverberated in my head. Is that what had almost happened to me? Somehow looking back on it, the situation hadn't seemed as bad as it should have if that word was appropriate.

Tripp was behind me with his hands on my shoulders as I recounted what I could remember of Willy's actions. I felt his hands tighten in rage as I told the police what the man had said to me. "Shit," I heard him breathe behind me before he turned around to try and collect himself. It was difficult saying the words that Willy had accosted me with, but having Tripp hear them was extra painful, especially because he was mentioned in the slew of hateful speech.

The police continued to question us awhile more. By the time it was over, I could sense a depression in both Tripp and I. After recounting the tale to the officers, I realized that what had happened with Willy didn't really matter so much. Nothing truly serious occurred, and I had Tripp there with me, which made it all better. He made everything all better...but in two days, he wouldn't be there anymore. He would be gone, and I would be expected to return to a life which two weeks ago, I had been perfectly content with. That old life seemed so far away now. Tonight had finally made me realize that my world was quickly going to be crashing down over me.

"Kira, I'm so sorry that you had to go through this..." Tripp started to show some of the pain he was feeling as we watched the squad cars drive away. I too was sorry that I had to go through it. He was referring to what had gone on in the barn though, which was not what I thought of when he said the words. "I should walk you back to your cabin," his voice was dead and emotionless as he began to slowly move. I didn't want to go back to the cabin. I wanted to tell him everything I was feeling.

"Tripp, wait, I wanted to talk to you tonight..."

I don't know how, but he seemed to understand what it was that was plaguing me. "Kira, with everything that has happened tonight, I'm not sure this is the best time." He sounded tired and confused. Confused was the last thing I wanted him to be. I needed him to be my rock, my support. I needed him to hold me and tell me everything was going to work out.

But I didn't get a chance to respond. In that moment, I saw Luke rushing over to us with a furious look in his eyes, similar to the one Tripp had when he dealt with Willy. My parents had told my siblings about what happened, but they couldn't talk to me with the police there questioning us. Now, I had never seen my brother so enraged before.

He didn't even acknowledge me as I stood there in our semi-secluded area near the barn. Instead, he went right for Tripp, not even bothering to stop for a moment before he slugged him across the cheek.

"Luke!" I screamed out as I ran to stop him from throwing another punch, which he was already primed for. I didn't make it in time, but Tripp, who had been taken aback, was ready now and easily deflected the swinging fist.

"You bastard!" my brother yelled to Tripp as I grabbed his arm, trying to rationalize with him. "How dare you do this to her!" He barely glanced my way as he tossed me off before moving in on Tripp again. Tripp was preventing Luke's attacks by averting the hands or simply turning aside when my brother charged at him, but he didn't do anything to hit back.

"I'm not going to fight you!" Tripp said harshly, trying to make my brother see that this was a one-man brawl. If it had come down to a fight, there was no doubt in my mind who would have won. Tripp had a good five inches on Luke, and was much brawnier.

"Luke, please!" I cried. What the hell was going on? "He saved me tonight, he's the reason why I'm all right!"

"No, Kira! If it weren't for him, none of this would have happened!"

"What does Tripp have to do with Willy wanting me?"

"You wouldn't have gone to that barn!"

"You don't know that! There would have been another way!" I was getting furious now at my brother who didn't realize what Tripp had done for me that night.

"Look at you! Defending him like some brainwashed little girl! What do you think is going to happen? What is going to come of this?" He motioned back and forth between Tripp and I, momentarily abating his physical hostility.

I realized then that this wasn't solely about what happened tonight. Luke was asking the same question I had been asking myself. I fought back tears as I tried to remain calm. "This is none of your business, Luke." My voice was low and serious.

"It's my business when some redneck treats my sister like a slut that he can just use and toss aside!"

Tripp winced at that one, his face contorting into anger and... remorse? Surely I misread his expression. After everything we had shared together, it was not going to end with me simply packing up and leaving, never to see him again.

"Luke, you have no idea what you're talking about," I tried not to cry. "This was just as much my doing as it was his! You think I didn't have a say in this? You think I didn't choose this?"

"You're nineteen, you don't know what you want!"

"Yes, I am nineteen, and I'm not a child anymore! I don't need you to tell me what I should be doing with my life!"

"He's using you, Kira!" He turned now back to Tripp, who had been standing there with a look of regret on his face. "You low-life piece of shit!" I didn't know what was more painful, Luke's words or the fact that Tripp wasn't denying them.

Tripp saw the punch coming, but did nothing to stop it this time. He barreled over as Luke took him in the gut, probably knocking the wind out of him. I cried out and once again, hurled myself at Luke, who shrugged me off and stepped back, giving me one last hard look and shaking his head before turning around and walking away with his back toward us.

I was too angry to cry at that moment. It had been so unfair of him, my brother, to come up on Tripp like that, knowing that he wouldn't fight back because he cared about me. I ran over to Tripp, who was still nursing his stomach, and tried to embrace him, putting my hands on his face and bringing his face to mine.

"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," I whispered, placing my forehead against his.

"Don't be, Kira," his voice was tortured and his eyes were closed, but he brought his hand up to stroke my hair.

"What are you thinking?" I asked urgently after a few moments as I stroked his face, trying to get him to look at me, to let me in.

"I don't know..."

"Yes you do, tell me!" I said harshly, frustrated with his silent thoughts.

"I feel terrible..." he spat out, tearing himself away from me and turning around. He ran his hands through his hair, and I stood there, waiting to hear the rest. "I feel terrible for doing this to you."

"Don't, Tripp, you saved me tonight, it wasn't your fault," I tried to reason with him.

"Yes, yes it's all my fault! Not just tonight, everything!"

I froze where I stood, anger slowly threatening to consume me. I saw what was happening, what was going to come to pass in a matter of moments. "You feel terrible. Why?" My voice suddenly turned cold. "You feel terrible for making me fall in love with you?"

His face shot up to look at me as I said it, as if he couldn't believe it. He began shaking his head, willing it to not be true. "No...no, Kira, you can't, you're leaving!" He brought it to the surface. The misery was written all over his face as he turned back toward me. He was in just as much agony as I was, so why didn't he do something about it?

"Yes, yes I'm leaving, Tripp, I'm leaving in a couple of days." It took every ounce of willpower to hold the tears back and keep my voice steady. I tried to be strong. He said he felt terrible, what did that mean? He felt terrible for all that had happened between us? Did he wish he could take it back? He had to feel something, he had to! "So what are we going to do?" My voice had dropped to a whisper, turning careful and detached.

"There's always next summer," he said softly after a moment.

I died a little inside. "Next summer? I see what this is... Sure, we'll wait until next summer." I broke, my voice caving in, leaving behind the cool tone and turning wild. "I'll go back and we'll fucking wait until next summer! Why don't you just say it! That you don't want me anymore! That you're done! That my brother was right!"

He started shouting too. "It doesn't matter if I want you or not! It doesn't matter how I feel! You tell me how it's supposed to work! Tell me that, Kira! You're in college, you have school to finish up! And I have to be here on this ranch. Shit, we've known each other for two weeks, that's all it's been. Two weeks! We can't base a commitment on that!" He became as frenzied as I was.

The tears were streaming down my face at this point. His words washed through me like ice. 'That's all it's been' - was that what he thought about these two weeks, the greatest two weeks of my existence? I was furious, and I was crushed.

"Well this must be really convenient for you, Tripp, me leaving and all. You don't have to do anything, the situation fixes itself, doesn't it?" My voice was cold and broken, and unable to stop myself, words poured out of me in anger. "I bet you fuck every piece of ass that comes through this ranch! How many women across the country are pining in their beds at night for Tripp Carson?"

The astonishment and hurt exploded all over his face as I spat his name out like it was a disease. Good. I wanted to hurt him. I wanted his world to end, just as mine was at that moment. I felt as if I couldn't breathe, like my chest was collapsing in. We simply stood there and stared at each other for a few seconds, me - with tears running down my cheeks and the feeling in my gut like I was about to be sick, and him - with a face contorted in anger, sadness, and confusion.

"Don't feel terrible, Tripp. I don't love you, how could I love you?" I spat out coldly. "I hate you, and I hate you more than I've ever hated anything!" I couldn't look at him anymore, I couldn't watch the effect my words were having. As I began to sob, I turned and ran. I ran and ran, and I didn't stop until I reached the cabin.

After I tore up the stairs to the small porch I threw myself against the railing, bending over it while I gasped and choked with the worst pain I had ever been in. I wanted to vomit. I tried, but nothing would come up. Was this what it felt like to die? I certainly felt as if I were dying.

Later that night, I lay in bed, willing myself to sleep so that I could escape the anguish. It was one of the first nights in awhile that I was actually sleeping in my cabin bed, instead of Tripp's, where I usually snuck off to in the evenings. It felt foreign and unnatural. Looking back, I found it odd that I had all but forgotten about Willy, yet it made sense. Willy would have merely raped my body. How insignificant my body seemed at this moment. Tripp had been more thorough. Tonight, Tripp had raped my heart.

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